Heatwaves are much more than just an annoyance. They can be very dangerous, leading to illness and death -- and because of climate change they are happening more frequently and are becoming more intense. That’s why raising awareness is very important. Now, the city of Seville in Spain wants to do what using an innovative approach: naming heatwaves.
Starting in 2022, the local government wants to start naming and categorizing heat waves, just like other countries and cities already do with tropical storms and hurricanes. This would be a world first, with Seville’s mayor Juan Espadas claiming this would help to make heatwaves more concrete and easier to identify by citizens, drawing much-needed awareness to the problem.
"Extreme heat waves are becoming more frequent and devastating as a direct effect from climate change. Local governments should address the threat heat poses to our populations, particularly the most vulnerable, by raising awareness of heat-health related hazards through evidence-based data and science,” Espadas said in a statement.
A really hot place
Over 700,000 people currently live in Seville, located in the south of Spain in the Andalusia region. It’s a popular tourist destination and also one of the country’s hottest areas. It's also one of the hottest regions in Europe.
Back on August 14th, the city of Montoro, 100 miles northeast from Seville, registered a 47.3ºC (117.3 Fahrenheit) temperature, which was the highest for Spain on record. Seville itself has had its fair share of heatwaves and extreme heat.
Seville partnered up with the Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation that focuses on reaching “one billion people with resilience solutions to climate change, migration, and security challenges” by 2030. The foundation formed in 2020 the Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance, a coalition of organizations working on the effect of urban heat on vulnerable groups.
“Heat waves, have been dubbed ‘the silent killer’ for a reason: They wreak unseen havoc on our economies, prey on the most vulnerable members of society, and kill more people than any other climate-driven hazard, yet the dangers they pose are grossly underestimated and gravely misunderstood,” Baughman McLeo, director of the Arsht-Rockefeller foundation, said.
The first steps will now be creating a focus group to come up with the heatwave names and also develop a categorization system. For this, Seville and the Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation will partner up with a team of meteorological, health and social marketing experts – including AEMET, Spain’s meteorological agency, and two local universities.
Naming and categorizing the heatwaves will allow local officials to implement specific policies, such as adding extra staff to emergency rooms and opening air-conditioned shelters. In parallel, Seville plans to carry out a public awareness campaign to better communicate the risks of extreme heat, giving citizens information on what they should and shouldn’t be doing.
Heatwaves are among the most dangerous of natural hazards but don’t get adequate attention because their death tools and destruction aren’t always immediately obvious. According to the World Health Organization, more than 166,000 people died because of heatwaves between 1998 and 2017, including more than 70,000 who died in 2003 during a heatwave in Europe.
The more the planet heats up, the likelier heatwaves become -- and the more people will have to suffer from them. Unfortunately, the decisive action required to truly curb climate change is still lacking. Perhaps initiatives such as Seville's can help more people be aware of the major risks posed by climate change.